Analyst ADAM PHETLHE looks at the suspension of Radio presenter Reginald Richardson and comes to the conclusion that the station could have caved in to political pressure.
That the popular host of the popular radio talk-show Breakfast with Reg on Gabzfm Reginald Richardson is, together with his producer Keikantse Shumba, off the air through suspension from duty, did not come as a surprise to me. And the reason (because it isn’t readily available) could be that the station management crumbled under persistent and unbearable political pressure from the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) owing to the perception that the station portrays the party in bad light particularly through Breakfast with Reg. According to the Sunday Standard newspaper dated November 6-12, 2016 which carried an extensive coverage of the story, it appears that Reggie was suspended following a complaint from the Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Communications Chairman in which he “demands an apology from the radio station”. An apology at least to the extent that this one was sought wouldn’t in the wildest dreams render one to be suspended unless there are other undercurrent issues.
The apology, according to the newspaper, emanates from “Gabz Fm management for airing a voice over clip of an alleged meeting between the Vice President Mokgweetsi Masisi and some Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) councillors and members” without extending an invitation to the BDP for its side of the story. The newspaper further reports that “He (Richardson) alleges that he tried to call the party Chairman, Party SG and Communications Chairman being myself. There has never being an attempt to contact me either through my phone nor (sic) email”. This piece of information is lacking and only Reggie can provide it. But even if the BDP did not participate in the show, what fatal and irreparable harm did the party suffer given that the authenticity of the clip doesn’t appear disputed? Would the content or message have changed had the BDP participated in the programme? Other similar clips involving the BDP (whether it was represented or not) have played in other private radio stations and I wonder whether a similar complaint will or has been raised with them. It would be a different kettle of fish if say the voice in the clip was impersonated. That said though, the party has a right to complain if it deems offended.
I am not privy to the terms of Reggie’s employment contract nor to the code of conduct of his employer but ordinarily, would a complaint like this one by the BDP Communications Chairman or anybody for that matter (assuming this was the reason for suspension) warrant one to be suspended? In fact, the BDP Communications Chairman expresses a similar view by saying that “Generally I would be surprised if they were suspended on the basis of my complaint”. It is, however, acknowledged that Gabzfm as an employer has a duty to suspend its employees including Reggie should they transgress the station or other related codes/policies etcetera. It should not be a knee-jerk reaction. It is in the public domain that Gabzfm is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be anti-BDP and that the station pursues an opposition political party agenda detrimental to the BDP. It is in this context and based on this perception that the BDP Communications Chairman complains in his private capacity on one hand and the BDP on the other. Given that the stakes are always so high in politics the BDP, like any other party, would naturally fight so hard to safeguard its own interests wherever, however and from whomever. It is said that in the run up to the 2014 general election, the BDP turned down an invitation from Gabzfm to participate in political debates with other parties.
The BDP is the ruling party with so much influence in both the public and private spheres owing to policy and legislative guidelines it comes up with to regulate them. This influence could have been used behind closed doors and could potentially have been applied on Gabzfm to suspend Reggie and his colleague. Perhaps in recognition of the possibility of the station losing business opportunities in terms of adverts and other related products to keep afloat, their employees would in the circumstances be the proverbial “sacrificial lamb”. This notwithstanding, any external political pressure to influence administrative processes on an employee is unfair and not in the spirit of good corporate governance. If Reggie was suspended under similar circumstances, his employer would have also failed him. I am still to be persuaded and convinced why the station failed to take the easy, un-cumbersome route of apologising to the BDP and its Communications Chairman (particularly that nothing more than an apology was sought). An apology was sought and granted to the same party in a case where the Vice President was reported to have been interviewed on the same radio talk-show by Reggie on the issue of “toying with a condom in parliament”.
The logical consequence of the inconsistent dealing with an apology by the same station in relation to the same party over the same member (Vice President) would suggest as the Sunday Standard put it, “Richardson suspended following pressure from ruling party and government”. In this respect the station and I hereby posit, failed to act consistently and succumbed to pressure from the BDP where in the process failed its employees. Like stated above and on what the newspaper reported, it appears that even if it can be reasonably argued that by failing to contact the BDP for his show Reggie contravened the station’s or any other code, this will at best be a minor contravention ordinarily dealt with through some minor intervention short of suspension. Suspension under the circumstances is painfully harsh particularly when orchestrated by external influence in this case a political party. Until one is aware of the progressive transgressions committed if any, the station, in so far as the current apology is concerned, has failed Reggie and Shumba. Judge for yourself!